Born in 1975 in Tehran, Gholamreza Sarraf holds a BA in Dramatic Literature and an MA in Cinema from Art University of Tehran. “Out of disbelief in the academia I experienced different professions before I finally entered the university,” he says. ” I have been a clothes seller, a computer operator, bookseller, and finally a proofreader and editor at Kharazmi Publishing House, an experience which led to my decision to pursue academic studies.” A number of plays by Harold Pinter (Dot, 2004), Beth Henly (Crimes of the Heart, Rokhdad-e No; 2012) and Slawomir Mrozek as well as screenplays by Ingmar Bergman, Jacque Prevert’s Les enfants du paradis, Federico Fellini, and Roman Polanski stand out in his literary resume. He is also a prolific poetry and nonfiction translator (of Dylan Thomas and James Joyce’s letters par example) with published articles and translations in renowned magazines like Faslnameh Honar, Zibashenakht, Farabi, Mehrnameh, Tajrobeh, Filmkhaneh, and Aftab Magazine. Among his edit jobs (a difficult task less noticed by the media) is the editing of a translation of Graham Greene’s Heart f the Matter. Let us see how a cinema graduate and translator’s literary tastes differ from that of creative writers.
PARSAGON What are the top seven works of world literature that have had the deepest influence on your life and career?
SARRAF To name seven books of western literature that were influential on the first two decades of my life, I would say
- A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
- War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
- The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
- Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Nietzsche
- The complete oeuvres of Chekhov
- Anti-memoirs by André Malraux
- Conversations with Kafka by Gustav Janouch
PARSAGON What seven works of contemporary Persian literature would you recommend for translation or more attention?
SARRAF The Farsi books apt for translation could be
- The Night of Fright – Hormoz Shahdadi
- Funeral Prayer – Reza Daneshvar
- The Mourners of Bayal – Gholamhossein Sa’edi
- Ah, Istanbul – Reza Farrokhfal
- Three Love Stories – Shamim Bahar, plus his other six published short stories
- The poems of Bijan Elahi
- Women Without Men – Shahrnush Parsipur
The Night of Fright, Hormoz Shahdadi’s masterpiece was published only once in 1979 and was almost lost and unnoticed during the tumults of the Revolution years and its aftermath. It account a single-night’s road travel in a car with Ismail taking his sick father from Isfahan to a hospital in Tehran. Stream-of-Consciousness constantly interrupting Ismail’s dialogues with the driver, narrative ruptures in time and iterative shifts between third-person narration to internal monologues have all made this novel a parable of Postmodernist Persian fiction.
The Mourners of Bayal comprises eight interconnected stories, all of which revolve around the inescapable horrors of death, disease, drought, and famine in a fictitious village named Bayal. “The Cow,” a short story in this collection was made into a very successful black and white movie by Dariush Mehrjuyi in 1969. Read Mahyar Entezari’s note on the story collection here.
Reza Farrokhfal’s Ah, Istanbul is a short story collection first published in 1988 in Tehran and included in Strange Times, My Dear: The PEN Anthology of Contemporary Iranian Literature . One of the stories bearing the same title tells a sad story of an older writer, about to leave Iran, whose manuscript is considered unpublishable by a young editor’s assistant.
Women Without Men, Shahrnush Parsipur’s masterpiece, is fortunately already translated to English twice (by Faridoun Farrokh and by Kamran Talattof) and screened by Shirin Neshat. It is one of the strongest works on gender roles in traditional society of Iran with delicate touches of allegory. In this novella Parsipur follows the interwoven destinies of five women—including a prostitute, a wealthy middle-aged housewife, and a schoolteacher—as they arrive by different paths to live together in a garden in Tehran. Get a copy of the translation here.